Ukrainians in the United Kingdom
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Ukrainians in the United Kingdom – persons originating from Ukraine, and persons of Ukrainian ethnicity from other countries, settled permanently or staying temporarily in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as their descendants who live in the country and consider themselves to be Ukrainian by heritage.

Before the Second World War

Information on the presence of Ukrainians on the territory of the present-day United Kingdom (UK) before the mid-nineteenth century is fragmentary. In the early 1630s, while on an educational tour of Western Europe, the future Ukrainian statesman Yurii Nemyrych visited England and, according to some sources, attended lectures at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In the second half of the eighteenth century there were Ukrainians among those who came to the UK from the Russian Empire, including translators and other officials of the Russian embassy in London, chaplains and unordained assistants of the Russian church under the protection of the embassy, and students. Ukrainian chaplains of the embassy church included Yefrem Diakovskyi (1765-1768), Andrii Samborskyi (1769-1779) and Yakiv Smyrnov (1780-1837). Viktor Kochubei, Vasyl Malynovskyi, Andrii Nazarevskyi, Ivan Smyrnov and other Ukrainians were attached to the embassy. In 1761-1767 the future legal scholar Semen Desnytskyi studied at Glasgow University, where one of his mentors was the economist Adam Smith. In the 1770s and 1780s a number of Ukrainians studied medicine in Edinburgh, and in the same period several Ukrainians were sent to England to study English agricultural methods.

Among Ukrainians who lived or stayed temporarily in the UK in the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth were the priest and political activist Agapius Honcharenko (1860-1861), sociologist Maksym Kovalevskyi (1870s and 1880s), writers and political activists Serhii Kravchynskyi-Stepniak (1884-1895) and Feliks Volkhovskyi (1890-1914), economist Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovskyi (1892), promoter of consumer co-operatives Ivan Petrushevich (c. 1901, 1904), journalist and women’s movement activist Hanna Chykalenko-Keller (c. 1909-1914), and political activists Vladimir Stepankowsky (1911-1914) and Marian Melenevsky (1913-1914).

The first sizeable group of Ukrainians to arrive in the UK consisted of migrants from Western Ukraine, mainly from the Austrian crown land of Galicia, who, at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, emigrated from Western Ukraine to seek employment abroad, and settled in Manchester (see Ukrainians in Manchester before the Second World War). By 1912 this group numbered approximately 500 people, although by the outbreak of the First World War most of them had re-settled in North America or returned to Galicia.

After the war, members of the diplomatic missions of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) (1919-1921) and of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (1920-1923) were based in London. Two members of the UNR mission, Marian Melenevsky and Nicholas Gorbenko, continued to live and work in London after the mission was disbanded. Other Ukrainians living in London during the inter-war period included Vladimir Korostovetz, representative of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskyi (1920s-1930s); Vladimir Kysilewsky, director of the Ukrainian Bureau (1931-1940); Eugene Lachowitch (1933-1935) and Stephen Davidovich (1938-1941), representatives of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists; and Danylo Skoropadskyj, son of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskyi (from 1939).

Ukrainian scholars working in the UK included the linguist Roman Smal-Stocky (1923-1924), the metallurgist Polykarp Herasymenko (1928-1929), and the oncologist Leon Dmochowski (from 1938). There were also several Ukrainian students in the UK at this time, mainly from Canada, where there was already a large Ukrainian émigré community. The Ukrainian community in Manchester was not supplemented by new immigrants after the First World War. In 1933 it numbered about 150 individuals, including British-born children of pre-war immigrants.

Post-war immigrants

Large groups of Ukrainians first came to the UK in the 1940s. These were mainly serving or former members of various armed forces involved in the Second World War, and displaced persons and refugees who found themselves in mainland Western Europe at the end of the war.

In the first half of the 1940s thousands of Ukrainians were based in the UK as part of Canadian and US military forces engaged in the war. They were mainly descendants of Ukrainians who had previously emigrated to North America, and after the war most of them returned to their countries with their units. During the war about 1,000 Ukrainians, citizens of pre-war Poland, came to the UK and became members of the Polish Armed Forces under British command. Some of them came in the early 1940s, but most arrived in late 1944 or early 1945.

After the war, between 1946 and 1950, some 33,000-35,000 Ukrainians arrived in the UK. In 1946 between 3,000 and 5,000 were transferred from Italy to the UK as part of the Polish II Corps (see Ukrainians in the Polish Armed Forces under British command). In May and June 1947 around 8,500 former soldiers of the Galicia Division were transferred from Italy to the UK. In 1947-1949 some 21,000 Ukrainians recruited from displaced persons (DP) camps mainly in Germany and Austria came to the UK as part of the European Volunteer Workers (EVW) scheme. After arriving in the UK, the EVWs could apply for close relatives to join them from the DP camps, and by the end of May 1950 the Ukrainian EVWs were joined by around 410 adult dependants (mainly parents or spouses) and 450 children (most of whom were born in the camps). Subsequently, the immigration of Ukrainians to the UK declined significantly.

Beginning in 1955, some Ukrainian men in the UK invited women from Ukrainian settlements in the former Yugoslavia with a view to marriage (among the post-war Ukrainian immigrants to the UK there were considerably fewer women than men). From 1956 similar invitations were extended to Ukrainian women from Poland. Consequently, by 1975 about 1,500 Ukrainian women had come to the UK from Yugoslavia and Poland, and others continued to arrive in later years. From the end of the Second World War until the mid-1980s, during which time emigration from the USSR was severely restricted, only an insignificant number of Ukrainians came to the UK from Soviet Ukraine.

Of the 34,000-36,000 Ukrainians who came to the UK during and immediately after the Second World War (excluding those in the Canadian and US armed forces), most settled permanently, while a minority remained for only a short time. Around 700 Ukrainian EVWs, mainly men, soon returned voluntarily, or were deported, to the countries from which they had arrived. Many individuals, after a relatively short stay in the UK, migrated onwards to countries such as the USA, Canada, Argentina and Australia. Eventually around 8,000-10,000 left the country, mainly in the first half of the 1950s. Allowing for some early deaths, the number of post-war Ukrainian immigrants remaining in the UK in the mid-1950s was probably in the range 22,000-27,000. Since then the number has gradually decreased, partly owing to further emigration, but mainly through mortality. By 2017 the number of remaining post-war immigrants who arrived in the UK as adults was probably about 200-300, most of them aged over 90.

The immigrants who arrived in the UK in the 1940s originated from various parts of Ukraine which before the war were part of Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union. Most came from Galicia (about two-thirds), Volhynia, or Soviet Ukraine. About 85% of the immigrants were men. The overwhelming majority of the approximately 5,000 women who came to the UK were EVWs or their dependants. At the time of arrival about 60% of the immigrants were aged 20-30, while most of the remainder were older (few were younger than 20).

Relatively few of the post-war immigrants had completed their secondary education. Most had limited educational opportunities in their homeland before the war, or else their education was disrupted by the war. Moreover, in the case of the EVWs, the requirement was mainly for workers who would fill unskilled jobs, so there was no incentive to recruit more highly educated people. Many of those who did have a higher education emigrated to other countries after a short stay in the UK. Some of the immigrants enrolled at universities in the UK.

The post-war immigrants initially lived mainly in hundreds of temporary camps and hostels throughout the UK, with large concentrations in the agricultural areas of Scotland and eastern England and the industrial towns and cities of northern and central England. Almost all the immigrants were employed as manual workers. In the immediate post-war years over half of the men were employed in agriculture, while others worked in coal mining or various other industries. Women worked mainly in cotton and wool textile mills, or in domestic service in hospitals, hostels, etc.

The EVWs (who, from 1948, included also the former Galicia Division personnel) were initially obliged to work only as directed by the Ministry of Labour and not change their place of work without official approval. In 1951 these restrictions began to be lifted, as a result of which most Ukrainians from the agricultural areas migrated to industrial centres, mainly in England. Relatively few (no more than 1,000) Ukrainians remained in Scotland, several hundred in southern Wales, and only an insignificant number in Northern Ireland (see Geographical distribution).

After their release from the employment restrictions, most of those who initially worked in agriculture moved to industrial areas and found work in the textile industry or other sectors. Better paid jobs were beyond the reach of most of the immigrants, mainly owing to a lack of the required qualifications, insufficient knowledge of English, and, in some cases, opposition from trades unions. Those who achieved higher education qualifications after arriving in the UK generally found appropriate employment as teachers, lecturers, doctors, dentists, engineers, etc. Some of the immigrants established their own small businesses. Arriving in the UK with few or no possessions, most of the post-war immigrants subsequently achieved a satisfactory, or above satisfactory, standard of living: the majority, for example, became homeowners.

When they arrived in the UK most of the post-war immigrants were unmarried. Eventually almost all the women and some 60% of the men married. The women generally married Ukrainian men, but only a minority of the men could marry Ukrainian women because of the disproportionately small number of the latter. As already mentioned, some men married Ukrainian women invited from Yugoslavia or Poland. Many others married Scottish, Irish or Welsh spouses (relatively few married English wives), or women of other nationalities who came to the UK after the war, e.g. Italian, German, Austrian or Spanish.

Despite the difficulties associated with settling in a foreign country and the pressures of assimilation, most of the post-war immigrants retained their Ukrainian identity. Most of them, in addition to learning English to a greater or lesser degree of fluency, continued to use the Ukrainian language in everyday life, and generally aimed to pass on their Ukrainian national identity and language to their children.

The post-war Ukrainian immigrants created a diverse network of organisations and institutions, which formed the basis for a vibrant community life involving, to a greater or lesser degree, most nationally conscious Ukrainians. Their participation took the form of, for example, church attendance, membership of organisations, involvement in amateur performing arts groups, attending cultural and social events, or making donations towards the purchase of churches and community buildings, funding of organisations, publication of periodicals, charitable causes etc. Many individuals gave their free time to run the various organisations, at both local and national levels, to teach in Ukrainian supplementary schools, lead choirs and dance groups, etc. However, some of the post-war immigrants quickly assimilated into British culture and did not become involved in Ukrainian community life.

Practically none of the immmigrants regarded themselves as being nationals of their pre-war countries of residence (Poland, Soviet Union etc). After residing in the UK for five years the immigrants became eligible to apply for British citizenship through naturalisation. Initially, however, few did so: many retained the hope that the political situation in Europe would soon change and it would become possible to return to an independent Ukraine. Even in later years, when the likelihood of this appeared ever more remote, only a relatively small proportion of the post-war immigrants opted for naturalisation. After Ukraine became independent some individuals applied for British citizenship to facilitate travel to Ukraine.

Descendants of post-war immigrants

A second category of Ukrainians in the UK comprises the children and subsequent descendants of the post-war immigrants. Although, as mentioned earlier, about 450 children of EVWs came to the UK from continental Europe in 1947-1949, the majority of the first generation of descendants of the post-war immigrants were born in the UK, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s. As a rule, those born in the UK automatically acquired British citizenship (until the end of 1982), while those who were born in other countries and came to the UK with their parents generally also became British citizens later.

The first generation of descendants consists partly of children whose parents were both Ukrainian, and partly of children of mixed marriages, in which, as a rule, the father was Ukrainian and the mother non-Ukrainian. Members of this generation themselves married either children of Ukrainian immigrants or non-Ukrainians. Subsequent generations, therefore, have become increasingly diverse in terms of the Ukrainian component of their members’ ethnicity.

The post-war Ukrainian immigrants generally aimed to ensure that their children made the most of their education in the UK and, on the whole, the children attained higher levels of education than their parents. It was suggested that the proportion who went on to complete degrees at universities, teacher training colleges or other higher education establishments was at least as high as the UK national proportion. A significant number of students obtained doctoral degrees. The range of occupations and professions pursued by the descendants of post-war immigrants is broadly the same as in British society as a whole. While many children of the post-war immigrants continued to live in the same towns and cities as their parents, others settled elsewhere in the UK, in connection with their education or employment, or, in some cases, emigrated to other countries.

Familiarity with the Ukrainian language varies significantly among descendants. Some are quite fluent in the language, others can communicate effectively in Ukrainian, though not necessarily with complete grammatical accuracy, while many are not familiar with the language at all. Some British-born Ukrainians who did not learn the language at home, or only gained a partial knowledge of it, have subsequently studied Ukrainian at universities or evening courses.

While bringing up their children as integrated members of British society, most immigrant parents also aimed to pass on to them a commitment to their Ukrainian heritage. Generally, most receptive to this were children whose parents were both Ukrainian, though Ukrainian cultural attributes also contributed, to varying degrees, to the ethnic self-identity of many children of mixed marriages. Many British-born Ukrainians have become involved to a greater or lesser extent in the organised activities of the Ukrainian community, though with each new generation the overall level of participation is declining. There are also many individuals whose Ukrainian heritage plays no significant part in their lives.

Since the mid-1980s

In the second half of the 1980s, at the time of the liberalisation of the political system in the Soviet Union, the number of Ukrainians coming to the UK from the Ukrainian SSR began to increase. These included, in particular, researchers who obtained grants from British universities and other institutions. In addition, small numbers of ethnic Ukrainians from other countries of Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, began to come to the UK at this time.

After Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991 and the dissolution of the USSR it became much easier to leave Ukraine. The adverse economic situation in the country at that time led to a new wave of migration to various parts of the world, and since then significant numbers of individuals from Ukraine have stayed temporarily or settled permanently in the UK. These include temporary visitors (about 5,000 in 1991, 49,000 in 2015), students (up to a few thousand per annum), individuals with short or long-term work visas (peak of over 7,000 in 2004, less than 1,000 per annum since 2008), and individuals entering the UK for family reasons (up to several hundred per annum). Since the 1990s the UK’s undocumented immigrant population has included many Ukrainians, mainly individuals who remain in the UK for various lengths of time after their visas expire. Unofficially it has been estimated that in the mid-2000s over 100,000 individuals who had Ukrainian citizenship or considered themselves to be Ukrainian were living in the UK. Between 1991 and 2015 almost 13,900 Ukrainians acquired British citizenship. (see also Immigration from Ukraine since 1991)

Most of the Ukrainians who have come to the UK since the mid-1980s have been relatively young people of working age, with approximately equal numbers of men and women. They have originated from various parts of Ukraine, with the majority probably coming from the western part of the country. Most live in London (about 70% in 2007 according to unofficial estimates), and the remainder in various regions of the UK, with larger concentrations in towns such as Manchester, Bradford and Nottingham. Individuals living in the UK on a legal basis with permission to work are employed in a wide range of occupations, from academic, managerial, or highly skilled posts to unskilled jobs. Those without permission to work generally find employment in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs in sectors such as agriculture, food processing, construction, catering and domestic work, even if in Ukraine they obtained higher educational qualifications and worked in higher-level jobs.

Compared with the post-war immigrants to the UK, a relatively small proportion of the Ukrainians who have arrived since the mid-1980s have become involved in the activities of formal Ukrainian community organisations (whether those founded before the 1980s or new ones established by the new immigrants themselves). Greater preference has been given to interacting with other Ukrainians through informal networks based largely on new social media and the Internet. (see Community life)

Roman Krawec


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